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Archive for July, 2007

In Winnicott’s model, there is the child, a subject and the external reality, the object. In between the subject and the object, there is the mother who helps a child in making the transition from subjectivity to objectivity. He calls this, transitional object. The child’s ability to relate to the external reality depends on this transitional object. What is the function of this transitional object? Transition.

When a child cries of hunger, a mother presents her breast. This gives the illusion to the child that he/she is omnipotent. “I think breast and breast exists.” Winnicott believes that the mother’s ability to meet this need offers a child with a basic sense of security. But illusion is not reality. The mother must help the child makes this transition. A good-enough-mother makes possible this transition. She does not jump to fulfill every wish and fantasy of the child and hence a child learns that there is an external object outside of him. Not every thing he wishes comes into being. He realizes that he cannot think breast into existence. However a good-enough-mother also teaches the child that although the security does not come from the ability to create an object that will fulfill wishes, the object external to him or her will still provide that sense of security. Winnicott suggests that when a child plays by herself she know that even though the mother does not fulfill every wish, the mother is always present, keeping an eye on her. In this space, a child sense of security is internalized.

Translating this into theological terms, we are looking at believers making a transition from subjectivity to objectivity, from subjective experience to objective truth, from illusion to reality. Transitional object plays an essential role in this process of transition. I would like to propose that perhaps the role of the church is not one of the guardian of truth but a mid-wife, a transitional object. The church is not the objective object, but a transitional object that aids in the transitional process. I believe that the church cannot make pilgrimage for believers. And hence for those believers who find that most of the fundamental beliefs do not make sense to their existential struggle, they must make their own journeys. The church can create that space within the church and helps in the transition by becoming a good-enough-church.

Space opens up the possibility of exploration. In the struggle to know, the passion to learn and the quest for truth, a person is able to move; to think, to read, to deconstruct, to reconstruct, to doubt, to question, to cry and laugh. When everything is in place and the way is clearly defined, one can only move either forward or backward. One can become claustrophobic, theologically.

Perhaps this is what the church is about. Perhaps this is where one becomes a believer. Because the church has created a space, a space where believers can struggle, question, doubt, debate, serve, cherish; a church where they can get angry and argumentative; a church where they can laugh and smile. A church they are frustrated with and a church they truly love. Knowledge and rationality only affect the mind. Struggles, doubt, fear, uncertainty, questions, validation, affirmation, affect one’s being. Certainty, like Wittgenstein has indicated, is much nearer then we think. It is who they are. Hence in this existential exploration, the quest for truth, they have come to know within their being, that there is a place they can always return to and find rest for the weary soul. In Finding Space: Winnicott, God, and Psychic Reality, Ann Ulanov has so beautifully articulated the sacredness of space.

We destroy our projected object. But then, the object itself still stands there before us, existing in its own right, external to our creation of it and our projections upon it, surviving out of its own resilience and power. As Winnicott puts it: “The subject says to the object,’ I destroyed you,’ and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says, ‘Hullo object!’ ‘I destroyed you.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you.’” Now we confront the object as other to us, as one who may bring to us real resources out of its own reality, one that may differ from and exceed the resources we ascribe to it in fantasy.

A good-enough-church provides space for believers to search, question, doubt, and even attack. Her survival of this intense quest for truth makes possible the transition, the reduction of projective tendency. “The mother survives our destroying our picture of her,” writes Ulanov. “She rebounds out of herself and her own resources, not because the child withholds his ruthless instinct. For there she stands, external, real, with him.”

On the other hand, a church that cannot survive believers’ ruthless instinct traps believers within their own projective tendency, thus inhibiting the transitional process. I would like to propose that the church that sees itself as the final object to be reach only intensifies subjective projection and hence in her desire to offer truth to believers, she ends up trapping them in their illusion.

The church that sees itself as a good-enough-church, as a transitional object increases the possibility for truth and, in the process, makes truth more affective, more existential. The truth that affects the very being of believers.

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Once upon a time there lived little people in a little village on a little island. They were little because they had little hearts. They had little hearts because their hearts were filled with anger and hatred.

In this village lived two big families. The Lee family and the Lui family. There lived granduncle Lee and grand aunty Lee and grandfather Lui and grandmother Lui and many children, grandchildren and greatgrand children.See Lui, Suay Lee, Chee Lui, Chui Lee, Meow Lui, Muay Lee, Ling Lui and Luay Lee and on and on and on.

See Lui did not like Suay Lee.
Chui Lee was always angry with Chee Lui.
And every Lui disliked every Lee.
And every Lee could not stand every Lui.

But many many decades ago they were no little people with little hearts. They were big people with big hearts. They helped raise chickens. They helped cook chickens. They helped eat chickens. They shared fruits from their trees. And they named their streets in honor of one another. There were Lee-Lui and Lui-Lee Streets and Chee-Chui and Chui-Chee Streets and See-Suay and Suay-See Streets and on and on and on.

Everything changed one day when a tiger came into a village while grandfathers Lui and Lee were young. The tiger was hungry and he came searching for food. He charged into many homes looking for dim-sum and stewed chicken-feet, roasted pig-legs, and kung-pao chicken skipping over the chow-mein and loh-mien. He terrified and terrorized all the villagers.

Grandfather Lui and grandfather Lee thought they had to put a stop to this terror. They knew Kung Fu and Tai Chi and they decided to fight the tiger. They used techniques like tiger-claw, white crane, dragon kick, and snake fist. The tiger was so confused by all the fighting techniques that grandfathers Lui and Lee were able to defeat him quite easily.

Everyone came to applaud them for their bravery and victory. The Luis spoke among themselves that it was really grandfather Lui’s tiger claw that finally did the trick. The Lees spoke among themselves that it was grandfather Lee’s dragon kick that did the trick. And the word spread from the Lees to the Luis and the Luis back to the Lees. And they started being suspicious of one another. And they started talking bad about one another. And they stopped sharing their chickens and fruits.

And they became angrier and angrier. And their hearts grew smaller and smaller. And they both passed their deformed little hearts to their children and their grandchildren and their greatgrandchildren and their greatgreatgrandchildren until one day when another very very hungry tiger came into the village.

And although grandfather Lee was a very old man by then, he still remembered his dragon kick and snake fist techniques. He dragon-kicked and snake-fisted the tiger. But at the very moment he subdued the big cat, he too was thrown against a wall and he became unconscious. When he woke up he started forgetting things, many many things.

He forgot about his anger toward grandfather Lui. He forgot about his hatred. He forgot every bad thing he ever did and said to the Luis. He forgot about every bad thing the Luis ever did and said about the Lees. And his heart grew bigger and bigger.

He even forgot that he had defeated the tiger with his dragon-kick and snake-fist.

He thought grandfather Lui saved his family from the hungry tiger. “No one else in the village has such powerful kung fu moves,” grandfather Lee said to himself. So he brought a chicken over to grandfather Lui as a gesture of thanks. Then he forgot that he had given a chicken to the Luis.

The next day grandfather Lui brought kung pao chicken to the Lees. And grandfather Lee told all his children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren how kind the Luis were. So he asked his grandchildren to pick fruits from their trees and give them to the Luis. Then he forgot that he had given fruits to the Luis.

The next day grandfather Lui brought fruits from his trees to the Lees. And grandfather Lee told all his children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren how generous the Luis were.

And so their hearts grew bigger and bigger. And although they were old, they were able to pass on their dragon-kick, snake-fist, tiger-claw, white-crane and most importantly big hearts to their grandchildren and great grandchildren and greatgreatgrandchildren. And they were no longer little people from the little village. They were big people from the village and they remained big for generations to come.

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When I was around 5, I knew a girl who was treated unjustly by her parents. Her mom would always give the best of everything to the son and not the daughter. At that age I remembered being deeply moved and wanted to do something. I wanted to give my monthly allowance to her until I later learned that even with the injustice going on, her allowance was much better than mine. The need to try to help has always been a part of me. I don’t claim to have done much but just the awareness of the desire to help.

Now that I’m much older I realize that giving is complex. We all believe that it is a good thing but to give is not all that easy. My good friend, Rev. Jeffrey Thomas, often moans the fact that people like to do charity and at times their charity is not really helping. It only complicates the situation. I learned this lesson the hard way. A couple of years ago a Thai boy was trafficked into the US. The local NGO took on the case with passion. I was asked by an officer in the Thai government to keep an eye on the case and offer any assistance to the boy. I did not get to do much until the little boy’s grandparents came to the States to see their grandson. The local NGO viewed the grandparents as a part of the reasons for this victimization. This NGO did not treat the grandparents well at all. The people who work for this NGO are all good people, really good people. I visited the grandparents very often and spent time with them. The grandparents too were good people who do care about their grandson. And I thought to myself, doing good requires much more than just the willingness or the energy or the skills. It requires a philosophy of life that understands the complexity of human nature. A philosophical attitude that moves beyond black and white or a view that divides people into two broad categories…good people and bad people. We are all good and bad. I was among a few who actually talked to the mother of this little boy (the mother who sold his son…depending on how we define ‘sold’) during my trip to Thailand. She might not be the most competent mother but she was not evil. She was a broken person herself. And I learn that charity and compassion cannot rest on a simple dichotomy and rigid categorization. People are complex and this complexity is something we need to reckon with if we were to be more effective in reaching out to others.

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Three years ago in front of an old dormitory I met Mind and her friends.  Mind came from a very poor family living in a small tribal village in Chiang Rai Province.  She told me that she came to Chiang Rai city because it was her only option for her future and that of her family.  She left her village when she was 15 and with her parents’ blessing, left the village determined to get an education.  She started working in a small restaurant that could hardly covered her food bills, let alone her tuition, uniforms, equipments, and rent.  In a desperate attempt she applied and worked in a cocktail lounge.  But the work was risky and there were men harassing her constantly.  Life was hard but she kept working while at the same time refused to yeild to the pressure. 

Mind is one of the ten tribal students that my wife and I together with Gayle Foster, Natalie, and most recently the Hollywood SDA Church, through the leadership of Pastor Ryan Bell, have been offering montly scholarships for the past three years.  I received a note recently informing me that she has just graduated with a bachelor degree.  She is now earning 10,000 baht per month.  She gave all of her first month salary to her parents and will continue to give half her salary to help support her family.  It feels really good to know that the little effort we do will have a long-term effect for small families in remote areas of Thailand.   

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A friend forwarded this BBC link to me a couple of days ago on the issue of human trafficking in Thailand.   Sexual exploitation is a sad reality.  It is ironical how this wonderful form of human expression can be turned into something very degrading and dehumanizing.  I wonder why?  It seems to me that sex is a symbol of openness and vulnerability.  The gift of a self to others that takes place in a trusting and safe environment.   Hence coersion and sex are an impossible combination.   What one seeks to achieve is being negated within the act itself.  Yet trafficking continues to rank the highest in terms of revenues.   I wonder if this reflects deeply the condition of our souls collectively.   The drive for power even if it means a momentary control of the helpless victims is even a sadder reality.   I wonder if this craving for power is a form of compensation, the life that is out of control, a sense of vulnerability in an unsafe environment, the masculinity seeking to affirms itself from its own emptiness?  Trafficking seems to point to the fact that what we seek to gain is the very thing that destroys us.   Perhaps a lesson to be learned is that power comes from trusting and control emerges from letting go.   While we need to work harder to bring justice to the issue of human trafficking, I believe there is a soul searching process that needs to take place among us and in our community at large.           

BBC on Human Trafficking in Thailand:  

< http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/6277176.stm >

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I would like to invite us to explore the meaning of war from our current political climate by reflecting on Isaiah 53.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”

The historical context of Isaiah 53 was Judea caught in a critical situation. She had to decide how she was going to respond to Assyria because Assyria was expanding. Assyria was aggressive. Assyria was powerful. It would be reasonable and even responsible to think political strategies, count ammunition, stock weapons, recruit people, train soldiers, align oneself with powerful nations. But in the midst of all these threats came the message of Isaiah. “If you want to win this war, turn to God.” This does not make sense. It is like saying, if you want to pass your exam, don’t study, eat lots of vegetable and take a nap. It does not make sense but God is known to have done strange things.

In Isaiah 52:5 God said, “I will help you.” Verse 13 tells us God’s plan to help His people. “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” So God said, “Don’t worry. Turn to me and I will help you by sending my servant.”

It would be reasonable, even expected, for God to send a servant who was strong, a master strategist, a great warrior, a good fighter, someone who demanded attention and respect from the people. But God’s way does not always make sense. Isaiah 52: 14 describes this servant, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”

Why would God send someone so disfigured to help fight the enemies? This does not make sense. And when we continue reading in Isaiah 53, it even makes less sense. Isaiah 53 offers a picture of a servant promised by God to help God’s people achieve victory.

Verse 3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Verse 7: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers in silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

What is God saying? God seems to be saying, “Don’t worry about forming any military strategies. Don’t worry about the great army of Assyria because I will send my servant to help fight this great army. He will be disfigured. He will be despised and rejected by men. He will be sad. He will be oppressed and led like a lamb to the slaughter.”

God does not seem to make sense. God’s war strategies seem irrational. First God said, if you want to fight your enemies, turn to me. Second, if you turn to me I will send my servant and he will be disfigured, he will be weak, he will be sad, and he will be slaughtered. How can a suffering servant help? How can a dead servant help? How can we make sense of Isaiah 53?

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Traditionally we have circumvented this by turning this text into an eschatological theme. The suffering Christ makes salvation possible for us. The suffering Christ gives us hope for the future. The suffering Christ offers life eternal.

I agree with this traditional interpretation. But I believe there is something much more then the promised eschatological deliverance. I see Isaiah 53 as a political statement. It is about the kingdom of God here and now.

How do we fight our enemies? How do we conquer our enemies? How can we have victory over our enemies? It is human to think, we need more power, we need more weapons, we need more ammunition, we need advanced technology, we need more force. But Isaiah 53 speaks otherwise. Not by power, by might, by authority, by technology, or by force. As Mahatma Gandhi had eloquently pointed out, “An eye for an eye and the world goes blind.” This is the message of Isaiah 53. We do not inherit this kingdom through power, strength, and force. We conquer our enemies through the suffering God. We achieve victory through the God who is weak and powerless or in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “God allows himself to be pushed onto the cross. Only the powerless God can help.”

A classic example of this is found in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In his struggle against discrimination in South Africa Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed, “They can hurt us, they can kill us but they can’t take away our dignity.” Based on his interpretation of the sermon on the mount came the principle of Satyagraha, “The opponent must be ‘weaned from error by patience and sympathy,’ weaned, not crushed; converted, not annihilated. On April 5, 1930 Gandhi arrived at a seashore in Dandi, Ahmedabad, and started another act of civil disobedience through non-violence. He challenged British’s claim for monopoly on salt. To Gandhi, salt belongs to India and he initiated the business of making and selling salt. They were met with great resistance from the British police forces. They were beaten, savagely kicked, and dragged into ditches hour after hour, day after day. They were bleeding, their bones were broken, and some died. But they kept going, walking toward the salt factory, group after group, refusing to use violence, holding fast to the principle of ahimsa. Watching the incarnation of the principle of Satyagraha in the lives of these Indians Louis Fischer, the biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, wrote, “India is now free…The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle butts. The Indians neither cringed nor complained nor retreated. That made England powerless and India invincible.” Fischer was actually saying: “Even though the British still rules. Even though the British still has power. India is now free.”

Not by power nor by force because the kingdom of God is the kingdom of the heart. Because kingdoms, armies, domination, technologies shall pass but the heart lives forever. Power and forces come and go. But when the heart is touched, it becomes immortal.

Isaiah 53 is a political statement reflected in the life of Jesus Christ. They are statements to the enemies that say, “You can beat me and I’m still here. You can push me away and I’m not going away. You can curse me and I will remain with you. You can make me bleed, you can pierce nails through my hands, you can reject me, you can be mad at me, you can push that crown of thorns on my head, you can place that cross on my shoulder but I’m not going away. I’m here and I love you. You can kill me and I’ll be back.” In Isaiah 53 we see the God of courage, the courage to stand for truth, for justice, and for love even unto death. But Christ says, “I’ll be back” because love never dies.

God’s political statement seems irrational to the mind. But it is not meant to speak to the mind. Isaiah 53 is meant to speak to the heart. Translating this into the present world we live in, Isaiah 53 says to us, the way to respond to injustice, violence, oppression and discrimination is to touch the heart because the heart that is touched becomes immortal. The way to live the kingdom of God on earth is to have the courage to love even through pain, suffering, and humiliation because love never dies. Love lives on forever.

This is the message of Isaiah 53. Only the suffering God can help because a heart touched by love lives on forever.

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Perhaps a glimpse of freedom is reflected in an image of a person who finds satisfaction in just being ordinary. It is freeing to be ordinary. When one has to strive to be something more than what one truly is, one moves into the area of the ‘conditional.’ In this circle, life is determined by others. The public face is of ultimate importance. In the conditional, one betrays one very own self. Hence to move toward the unconditional may just be the journey toward the ordinary. To just ‘be’ in the ordinary sense of the word is liberating. It is serene. It frees us to become the very being from which we were called by God. It releases us from the pretentious public obligation. It offers a space for us to breathe deeply and invites our souls to the realm of rhythm and poetry. In the unconditional, one moves and flows, reshuffling and reconfiguring. One just becomes in the transformation of self. I remember vividly as a teenager sitting on a bus one afternoon. Two old Chinese ladies got on, one at the front and the other, the back. They wore funny clothes. They were clumsy but cheery, carrying funny stuff with them. They talked loudly exchanging words all the 45 passengers on the bus could hear. And I thought, how embarrassing. But now I wish I could be like these two old ladies, old self-differentiated ladies. They were free and liberated. They had no need to fit-in. They had no need to strive. They were just two old Chinese ladies happily traveling on the bus having a great conversation and sharing their intimate information about their husbands to all the 45 passengers.

In chapter six of the Inner Chapters, Chuang Tzu reflects on what it means to be a real person.

What is a true man? The true man of old did not oppose the minority, did not strive for heroic accomplishments, and did not scheme over affairs. Such being the case, he did not regret it when he made a mistake nor feel smug when he was right. Such being the case, he could climb high without trembling, enter water without getting soaked, and enter fire without feeling hot. Only one whose knowledge can ascend the heights of the Way can be like this.

In our quest for spirituality, the way is unknown, the path is unnamed. Transformation takes place not by transforming. We live in a noisy society. There are many voices that keep reminding us of what we ought to be, of various standards and multiple criteria. These noises make us want to move in various directions complying to their callings. In the midst of these seductive invitations remains a lost soul. Silence, on the other hand, is how we come to really hear the essence of who we are. Not by judging nor analyzing but just listening. The soul finds its destiny. Be ordinary. Flow in the stream of life and one may be awaken to the real discovery of oneself in the presence of God. Jasmin Cori provides a possible description of such a person.

Running through the village
embracing everyone she meets,
she laughs in ecstasy.
People call her mad.

“New eyes!” she cries.
“I have been given new eyes!”
And it is true.
For the scales which had previously blinded her
are gone now, erased
revealing such utter glory
that her mind took flight,
leaving only a rapturous heart
in an old, weathered body
racing through the streets
on fire with love.

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